All about waste
This chapter tells you:
- Why waste is a problem
- How waste hurts the environment
- About different types of waste and how much we create
- How to:
- How to choose products that create less waste
- Why recycling alone will not fix our waste problems
- What else you can do to reduce waste
- How to save money by avoiding waste
What is waste?
When asked what waste is, most people say things like 'useless or worthless garbage', or 'stuff to be thrown away'.
But a lot of what we put into our rubbish bins is not useless at all. It's just that we use things once and then throw them away.
We throw waste 'away' - but where is 'away'?
Usually 'away' means into our bins, which are picked up by the local council and then the waste is buried in the local rubbish tip.
A lot of things we throw away could easily be used again
We all create waste when:
- We go shopping and accept all those plastic bags at the checkout rather than taking our own string bags or baskets.
- We put a bunch of bananas into a plastic bag - a bag that we don't really need.
- We buy meat that is packed in foam trays and plastic.
- We thoughtlessly throw something in the bin rather than
- thinking about whether it could be re-used, recycled or composted.
- Over-use resources to produce goods.
- Use more than we need.
- Mix materials together in the garbage bin so they can't be recycled or re-used. For example, mixing newspapers and food scraps spoils the newspapers for recycling .
Our attitudes to waste are shown in the words we use to describe it. Think about the words we use: refuse, garbage, trash, scrap, rubbish. These words make waste seem useless, dirty or unhealthy.
- What do you think about waste?
- A re you concerned about waste, or is it someone else's responsibility?
- Whose responsibility is it?
- What do your neighbours think about waste?
- What about your friends, family and workmates?
- As Earth Workers, you will have the chance to influence how other people think about waste. Your own attitudes will probably change as you read on.
Why is waste a problem?
For many years people just threw away things they didn't want anymore. But with increasing amounts of waste per person and bigger populations, we can no longer afford to do this.
How waste kept growing
In recent years more and more useful material has been thrown away. We are running out of places to dispose of all the waste. At the same time, people have made it clear they don't want to live next door to landfills.
Suddenly, when faced with plans for new tips, people have become concerned about the waste of resources and the impacts of waste on the environment and their quality of life.
Now we realise waste is everybody's problem and there fore everyone's responsibility.
As we have become more industrialised, we have created more waste.
How waste disposal can harm the environment
When waste is sent to landfill, it doesn't just magically go away. It can sit there for years, sometimes for generations, and create more waste in the form of gas and waste water.
Gas from landfill. Smells like rotten eggs. It can also contain poisonous chemicals that can damage the environment unless it is managed properly.
Liquid waste. Water and other liquids that pass through the landfill form another liquid known as leachate.
What we put into our garbage bins is collected and then transported to the local tip.
When we do this, we are :
- Throwing useful materials away
- Throwing money away
Most of the waste in your garbage bin - including plastic, food scraps, paper and cardboard - can be used again, recycled, composted or fed to a worm farm.
But instead of seeing these things as resources, we use them once and toss them out. Then someone else takes them away and buries them. This is not good for our wallets nor for our planet!
We all pay for waste disposal
In Australia it costs us millions of dollars a year to collect and dispose of all of our waste. It also costs us money to try to fix the damage waste disposal can do to our environment.
And, in the long term, we all pay the cost of using too many raw materials to create more and more new things.
How much waste do we create? Since 1990 Australians have been throwing away about 10 million tonnes of waste each year.
Where does waste come from?
There are 3 main sources of waste. These are:
|How much domestic waste? |
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19% pager and cardboard
56% food scraps and garden waste
Every Australian creates nearly half a tonne of household waste each year.
Household waste makes up almost half of the solid waste created in this country each year.
Commercial and industrial waste
Industrial waste comes from offices, factories, shops and hospitals. Every year we generate over 350 kilograms of waste for every person in Australia.
Building and demolition waste
The building, construction and demolition industry creates well over a quarter of all solid waste. This includes concrete, timber, metals, and other assorted building materials.
Two important forms of waste found at home, in commerce, industry, building and demolition are:
Green waste comes from the garden and the kitchen. It's stuff like grass clippings, leaves, tree prunings, wood packaging, wood off-cuts, fruit and vegetable scraps.
Green waste makes up about a third of the total waste in NSW. Most green waste is created by households.
Poisonous and dangerous wastes
These make up a very small amount of solid waste. But they are a real concern because they can make people sick and can pollute the environment.
Some common items like car and other batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, which are all poisonous and can cause brain injury in children.
Paints, solvents, lubricating oils and even household cleaners contain toxins that can damage our health and our environment.
These types of wastes should never be put into the rubbish bin or poured down sinks or drains. Your council collects them separately.
Transfer stations and rubbish tips accept some dangerous household wastes. Your local council can tell you where your nearest disposal facility is, and what it collects.
How the waste in your bin gets to the rubbish tip
STEP 1: Sort your waste for collection.
STEP 2: You put your rubbish out for collection.
STEP 3: Your council collects your waste from the rubbish bin.
STEP 4: In some city councils, the council truck leaves your waste at the transfer station for transport to the rubbish tip.
STEP 5: Waste is taken to the rubbish tip.
How you can avoid making waste
If you want to reduce waste you need to A-R-R. ARR stands for:
AVOID RE-USE RECYCLE
The best way to reduce waste is to avoid making it in the first place. The next best strategy is to re-use whatever you can. And finally it is important to recycle everything that you can.
- AVOID. If we use fewer products now, there will be less waste later.
- RE-USE. It makes more sense to simply re-use an existing product than to spend the time and energy recycling it.
- RECYCLE. The materials in a used product are broken down and used to make something new.
What happens to a product if we don't avoid - reuse - recycle?
The life cycle of a glass bottle includes:
Resource extraction. Mining the sand, soda and limestone needed to make glass and then transporting these minerals to the factory.
Production. Making the glass by melting these materials, which uses a lot of electricity or gas;
Consumption. The glass is then filled and shipped to the retailer and then onto you – the consumer.
Disposal. After all this you use the contents of the bottle and you are faced with the choice of how to dispose of it.
Landfill. If you haven't put your bottle out for recycling, it will end up at the rubbish tip.
Practical ways you can avoid making waste
Don't just buy, buy, buy – think, think, think. By not buying things we can live without, we reduce the amount we waste and save money, too.
Before you buy anything, think about if you can avoid buying it.
- Do I really need this?
- Can I make do with a smaller amount?
- Will it last? Can it be maintained, repaired or restored as it gets older?
- Is there a simpler, less wasteful alternative?
- Is it over-packaged? Is there another product with less packaging?
- What are the environmental impacts of my buying this product?
These questions challenge us to think about our buying and using habits. Do I think before consuming, or do I just buy for the sake of buying? Or am I just in the habit of buying these things?
Then think about re-using the item:
- Just because I no longer need it, does it have to become waste?
- Can I sell it or pass it on to someone else who could use it?
- Could I donate it to a charity op-shop?
- Can I buy it second-hand? If you are about to buy something new, such as a washing machine.
- Can I repair or restore it?
- Is there a long-lasting or re-usable alternative to a throw-away item? For example: buying a battery recharger set, carrying a thermos cup with a lid rather than buying coffee in polystyrene cups, using lunchboxes rather than plastic and tin foil.
Then think about recycling.
- Is it made from recycled materials?
- Is there a recycling collection system for it in my area?
- Can the item be recycled easily, or are the materials mixed and therefore difficult to separate?
'Closed-loop' vs 'Open-loop' recycling
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'Closed-loop' recycling. The best type of recycling is called 'closed-loop' because it doesn't need as many new raw materials. For example, a closed-loop recycling system enables a used green glass bottle to be recycled into a new green glass bottle.
'Open-loop' recycling is when the materials from one type of product are used to make a different product.For example, recycling plastic bottles into plastic drainage pipe.
Open-loop recycling is often called "reprocessing" or "down-cycling".
What does "recyclable" mean?
If the word "recyclable" is printed on something you are about to buy, it does not mean it can always be recycled. It depends where you live.
Recyclable simply means that it is possible to recycle the material. It does NOT necessarily mean it is practical or easy to recycle it. The most common materials that your household can recycle are:
- plastic soft drink bottles
- food and garden waste
- steel cans
- scrap metal
- cooking or car oil.
Check with your local council
Problems with recycling
Most people think recycling helps our environment, and have taken it up as a way of life. However, recycling is not the only answer to all our waste problems. Here's why:
- Contamination. To make new products from old, the material must be clean and contain only one specific material. For example, if an old plate is crushed up with glass which is going to be recycled into bottles, the crushed plate will cause faults in the glass and the bottles will not form properly.
- Lack of markets. Sometimes there is a lot of recycled material a round and not enough businesses wanting to buy it. This means that it may not be recycled.
- High cost. Recycling is not free. The cost of collecting, transporting and recycling is often higher than the price recycled goods can be sold for.
Saving money by reducing waste
You'll be surprised at how much money you can save as well as reducing your waste. Here are some examples:
- Most toilet cleaners do little more than change the colour of the loo water and cost you money.
- Small individual packets of chips can cost up to 44% more than the same amount sold in a large packet.
- Salt sold in recyclable card board is much cheaper than salt sold in plastic. A 125g plastic bottle of salt costs more than 500g of salt in a cardboard box.
- Tea sold in tea bags can cost up to twice as much as that sold in bulk. You can also buy your coffee freshly ground into your own container.
- Foods like rice, potatoes, sugar and fruit bought in bulk can save money and reduce waste.
- Cleaners can be bought in refill packs, avoiding waste and saving money.
Page last updated: 29 June 2012